Due to their predatory nature, raptor species may serve as important indicators of environmental contamination with antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Raptors prey on small rodents and birds that have diverse habitat ranges, including urban and rural environments, and their intestinal microflora can reflect that of the animals on which they feed. Enterococcus spp. were selected as target organisms because they have been isolated from the avian gastrointestinal tract, can be conferred by prey items, and because they are capable of multiple resistance patterns. They are also a concerning source of human antimicrobial resistance. In this study fecal cultures were obtained from 15 May 2004 to 31 August 2004, from 21 free-living raptors and four captive raptors. Enterococcus was isolated from 21 (84%) of the 25 birds, and 54 isolates were chosen for further study based upon unique colony morphology. The most common isolate recovered was Enterococcus faecalis (95%, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 89–100). One bird in the study was determined to have Enterococcus gallinarum. Two distinct ribotypes of E. faecalis were identified, one with unique bands at 11 and 13 kb and the other with unique bands at 14 and 20 kb. Both ribotypes were found in free-living and captive birds. The Enterococcus isolates in this study demonstrated a variety of antimicrobial-resistance characteristics, including almost complete resistance to amikacin, first-generation cephalosporins, spectinomycin, and sulphadimethoxime. Isolates demonstrated variable resistance to chloramphenicol, gentamicin, enrofloxacin, erythromycin, and ticarcillin. No phenotypically vancomycin-resistant E. faecalis isolates were recovered from any of the raptors; three isolates had intermediate level susceptibility. A significantly higher number of isolates collected from captive birds demonstrated resistance to chloramphenicol than those obtained from free-living birds. This trend was not duplicated with any of the remaining 18 antimicrobial drugs tested. The results of this study suggest that raptors in central Illinois are coming into contact with antimicrobials, prey exposed to antimicrobials, or bacteria that are capable of transferring resistance genes. Further study is needed to determine the source of antimicrobial-resistant Enterococcus in free-living raptors but the limited data reflecting few differences between birds with and without antimicrobial exposure suggests that treatment and release of treated wild raptors is not contributing significantly to antimicrobial resistance in the environment.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2